Language

What do ‘catcalls’ have to do with cats?

6 August 2022 9:00 am

‘A law against catcalls?’ asked my husband sceptically. ‘What next, criminalising booing and hissing?’ He often gets the wrong end…

The etymological ingredients of ‘flageons’

30 July 2022 9:00 am

‘Don’t you know the answer?’ asked my husband with mock surprise, throwing over to me from his armchair a copy…

The ever-shifting language of ‘culture wars’

23 July 2022 9:00 am

‘Come on, old girl,’ said my husband as though encouraging a cow stuck in a ditch, ‘you must know.’ It…

‘Our’ by ‘our’, Boris’s resignation speech

16 July 2022 9:00 am

There was a word I didn’t understand in Boris Johnson’s resignation speech (in which he did not resign). He spoke…

‘Pinch’ has long packed a punch

9 July 2022 9:00 am

Before pinch as a verb appears in any written sources, it already formed part of surnames. Hugo Pinch was walking,…

Dominic Raab and the problem of ‘distraction’

2 July 2022 9:00 am

Dominic Raab blamed distraction forBoris Johnson’s woes when the Tories failed in two by-elections last week. ‘Hehas track records as…

Does Meghan Markle know what ‘guttural’ means?

30 June 2022 4:00 pm

When the Duke of Sussex heard about the Supreme Court judgment revoking the ruling in Roe vs Wade, ‘His reaction…

Lord Geidt’s ‘odious’ remark

25 June 2022 9:00 am

Lord Geidt said in his resignationletter that he had been put in an odious position. He meant it was hateful,though…

The not-so-sweet roots of ‘nice’

4 June 2022 9:00 am

‘That’s nice,’ said my husband, taking a Nice biscuit with his coffee. It was his little joke. The biscuit is…

The strangeness of station names

28 May 2022 9:00 am

In Kyiv they have voted to changethe names of some metro stations. Heroes of the Dnieper is to become Heroes…

Why nothing ever comes ‘for free’

21 May 2022 9:00 am

‘It’s not as nice as it looks,’ said my husband, not leaving time to look it in the mouth before…

Why disgraced MPs head for the Chiltern Hundreds

14 May 2022 9:00 am

I saw in last week’s Spectatorthat the tractor MP had applied for the stewardship of the Manor of Northstead. After…

The wonder of the Metaphor Map

30 April 2022 9:00 am

‘What’s that?’ asked my husband, looking at my laptop. ‘Fibonacci fossilised?’ His question made no sense, but I saw what…

The linguistic ingredients of ‘salmagundi’

23 April 2022 9:00 am

‘It makes me hungry,’ said my husband when I mentioned the word salmagundi. That is his reaction to many words.…

The Aesopian language of algospeak

16 April 2022 9:00 am

To evade algorithms that hunt down forbidden words, users of platforms like TikTok employ cryptic synonyms. So deadbecomes unalive, and…

What’s the right way to pronounce ‘gif’?

9 April 2022 9:00 am

The man who invented gifs, Stephen Wilhite, has died, aged 74. Controversy survives him – over how to pronounce the…

When did brothers and sisters become ‘siblings’?

2 April 2022 9:00 am

I never cared much for the word sibling, though I hardly knew why. The reason must be that it was…

How do you pronounce ‘Cirencester’ and ‘Marylebone’?

26 March 2022 9:00 am

‘Half! Half! Half!’ exclaimed my husband like a performing sea lion. Not that sea lions perform any more, but you…

Why does everything ‘embolden’ Putin?

12 March 2022 9:00 am

The most emboldened man on earth must be Vladimir Putin. Everything seems to embolden him. Treating Russia as a pariah…

The complicated business of swearing in Ukrainian

5 March 2022 9:00 am

‘This will interest you,’ said my husband, looking up from the smeared screen of his telephone. For once he was…

How 'like' lost its way

26 February 2022 9:00 am

A strange crisis has befallen like. It had long been an object of obloquy and vilification in two functions. The…

How the ancients approached the three Rs

19 February 2022 9:00 am

German archaeologists have found ancient Egyptian tablets covered in repetitive writing exercises and ask — were they pupil punishments? But…

Where’s the ‘mystery’ in mystery plays?

19 February 2022 9:00 am

In The Archers, Ambridge put on its own set of mystery plays dramatising the Nativity and Passion. BBC Radio 4…

When did ‘pikey’ become offensive?

12 February 2022 9:00 am

A policeman sent a colleague who was house-sitting for him a WhatsApp message: ‘Keep the pikeys out.’ He was sacked…

What does ice cream have to do with ‘late capitalism’?

5 February 2022 9:00 am

‘More to my taste is Trockenbeerenkapitalismus,’ said my husband with an intonation that indicated a joke. The joke was a…